The Supreme Court of U.S authorized federal courts on Friday to challenge the restrictive Texas abortion law, but without suspending its application.
The decision removes the procedural obstacles that have so far prevented federal courts from blocking this state legislation, despite the fact that it violates the jurisprudence of the highest judicial instance.
The ruling was hailed by abortion opponents, who were pleased that the law remains in effect in this conservative southern US state, such as Texas Attorney General, Republican Ken Paxton, who tweeted “GREAT VICTORY” after the decision.
“It is a victory for Texas and the pro-life movement”, added the Republican senator of that state, Ted Cruz.
However, Democratic President Joe Biden “is very concerned about the Supreme Court’s decision to leave the law in place, considering its consequences for Texas women, for the country, and for the rule of law,” stated his spokesperson Jen Psaki.
The ruling, according to activist Amy Hagstrom Miller, is “cruel, unfair, inhuman.”
“Our teams are desperate, scared, discouraged” and “our patients do not understand why they are being denied the care they need,” Miller, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights in Texas, added at a press conference.
A very particular law
In force since September 1, the law of Texas, a conservative state, prohibits women from aborting after six weeks of gestation, when the heartbeat of the fetus begins to be felt, even in the case of incest or rape.
The Supreme Court recognized in 1973, and confirmed in 1992, the right of women to abortion while the fetus is not viable, that is, between 22 and 24 weeks of pregnancy.
In addition, the Texas legislation presents an exceptional device, which until now has complicated the intervention of federal justice.
Indeed, it entrusts citizens “exclusively” with the task of enforcing the ban on abortion after six weeks, encouraging them to take civil action against individuals and organizations that help women terminate pregnancy, promising them $ 10,000 compensation in return.
Called to rule on the issue when the law came into force, the Supreme Court, with a conservative majority, took refuge behind these “new procedural questions” to refuse to intervene.
Its inaction, seen as a sign of the influence of the three justices appointed by former Republican President Donald Trump, had been strongly criticized by the more progressive Democratic sectors.
But since then the legal battle has intensified, forcing the highest court to take up the case.
During a hearing on Nov. 1, Supreme Court justices were mostly skeptical about the mechanics of Texas law.
Finally, this Friday “eight members of the Court agree that” the principle that protects the sovereignty of the 50 states “does not prevent prosecutions in federal courts,” according to its decision, which was not only supported by conservative judge Clarence Thomas.
The President of the Court, John Roberts, and the three progressive justices, added, in a separate text, wanting the courts to quickly block this law “given its sinister and persistent effects”.
For more than three months, “pregnant women in Texas have been denied access to abortion in their own state after six weeks of pregnancy. Some have exercised their rights by traveling to neighboring states, but many others have not,” said progressive judge Sonia Sotomayor.
“The Court should have put an end to this madness several months ago,” continued the magistrate, who considered that “it was wrong then and it is still wrong today”.
“Once again, the Supreme Court has renounced its duty to protect the Constitution by allowing the law of Texas, the most radical and unprecedented in the country, to remain in force,” denounced the feminist organization Women’s March.
However, “we are not going to stop fighting,” replied on Twitter the organization Whole Woman’s Health, which operates four clinics in Texas and has taken legal action against the law. “We have already won cases that seemed impossible and we know that we are going to do it again,” it said.
Meanwhile, opponents of abortion rights celebrate buying time. “We are delighted that Texas heartbeat legislation remains in effect and is saving the lives of unborn babies,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List group.
“And we are anxiously awaiting the court decision” on a law that bans abortions in the southern state of Mississippi after 15 weeks of pregnancy, she added.
Travis M. Andrews is a features writer for The Washington Post. He joined The Post in 2016 as a reporter for Morning Mix. He was previously a travel and culture editor for Southern Living magazine, a contributing pop culture reporter for Mashable and the Week, and a contributing editor for the Syfy blog Dvice. He also has freelanced for magazines, including Esquire, GQ and Time. He is the author of the coming book “Because He’s Jeff Goldblum,” a semi-rumination and semi-ridiculous look at the career of the enigmatic actor and an exploration of the shifting nature of fame in the 21st century, to be published in November by Plume.